BBC breaks records as viewers switch on Olympics

The BBC sport site had its busiest day ever on Sunday as people flocked to watch Olympics coverage online, reports Rob Budden.

The BBC is delivering 24 simultaneous live channels over the web covering all the events at the Games. That equates to a total of 2,500 hours of coverage – 1,000 hours more than the Beijing Games.

On Sunday bbc.co.uk/sport had 8.3m global browsers – 2.2m of these overseas. These are big numbers. Indeed, the Olympics may well emerge as a key event in changing viewing habits for millions, with many no doubt watching sports content online for the first time.

But the overseas numbers are very interesting too. A significant slug of these overseas viewers have come from the US, where NBC has exclusive broadcast rights to the Olympics but is failing to show many events live. Many people in the US therefore have been turning to anti-internet censorship technology to enable them to watch the BBC sports sites. If you live in the US this is one of the only ways of catching the Olympics sports as they happen.

The opening ceremony has proven to be one of the big pulls. BBC iPlayer has had 1.7m requests for the opening ceremony and 925,000 on the Saturday, a record for a single day. The TV audience was much higher than this – at 26.9m, making it the UK’s 13th most watched programme ever. (By comparison, UK viewing figures for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games in 2008 peaked at 5.4m).

The massive TV audience for the 2012 opening ceremony is impressive but not that surprising – a key event like this is not only gender neutral but appeals to all generations. And most people want to watch live if they can and on the living room TV – the best screen in the house.